It never takes long before people realize that Oporto (known to locals as Porto) is an extraordinary city. Perhaps they will be standing along the Douro River in Villa Nova de Gaia – the neighbourhood built and sustained by fortified port wine -- captivated by the way Portugal’s second largest city looks like a pop up town, with medieval relics, soaring bell towers, extravagant baroque churches and stately beaux-arts buildings piled on top of one another, illuminated by streaming shafts of sun.
Or maybe it will be the quiet moments that grab them: the slosh of the
Douro against the docks, the snap of laundry lines drying in river winds, the
shuffle of a widow’s feet against the cobblestone, the sight of young lovers
tangled in the notch of a graffiti bombed wall, the sound of wine glasses
clinking under a full moon.
Yes, Porto is a tumbledown and artistic, historic and young,
wine-drenched town that can make you weak in the knees in hundreds of different
ways. Consider just three.
The night is alive
Porto is a college town, and the narrow cobblestone streets just north
of Rua das Carmelitas, especially Rua Galeria de Paris, fill with young
nocturnal marauders for an all-out street party on warm summer nights and on
weekends throughout the year. Rockers and bohemians pile into Plano B, where the upstairs art gallery
and cafe are atmospheric and social, but the cosy basement is kinetic with international
indie rock, DJs, performance art and engaging theatre.
Maybe it is some postmodern, evolutionary art
cycle, wherein the city chooses its worthy, salvageable relics and lets street artists
fix the rest, but three-dimensional scrawl appears everywhere in Porto, on
garage doors, crumbling ancient walls, empty storefront glass and neglected
stucco. Here, a stencilled pilgrim; there, a cloaked bodhisattva. There is no
getting around it -- when graffiti tolerance is this high, it becomes a sort of
passive celebration. And in Porto the graffiti deserves to be celebrated. It is
massive, ubiquitous and spectacular, especially at Lapa Metro Station.
Tucked into a tight corner of the Unesco-certified
Ribeira district, A Grade (Rua da Saoicolau 9, 223-321-130) is a humble family
operation and a masterwork of traditional fare. Padre Ferreira works the room
with a beaming smile and generous pours of tawny port. Madre Elena prefers her
tiled kitchen where she bakes octopus in butter and wine, and presents special
roast veal dinners in gorgeous casseroles alongside sautéed kale and crispy
potatoes. The meal ends with free nips of Padre’s house-aged aguardiente (Portuguese brandy) then
guests are released and drawn to the banks of that ever present Douro River: a
sheet of dimpled glass reflecting a glittering, dreamy city.
The article 'Urban treasures in Oporto' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.